When chef Rich Hanson began moving his kitchen equipment out of the Main Street building that for the past ten years has housed his restaurant, Cleonice Mediterranean Bistro in Ellsworth, he expected to see just how big the space was, once it was empty. Instead, he saw how small it was.
“We’d been cooking in a space not much bigger than a big bedroom,” said Hanson, who has been nominated twice for a James Beard Award for his beautiful, creative, steadfastly local take on tapas and Mediterranean food. “You just get used to it.”
Which made it all the more exciting when he moved his kitchen into his much bigger new space at 192 Main St., just up the street, the same kitchen Cleonice will share with another longtime downtown Ellsworth business: the Maine Grind coffeehouse. Last week Cleonice and the Maine Grind completed the merger that had been talked about — in theory and then in reality — for well over a year. Rich Hanson and his wife and co-owner, Cary, took over management of the Grind a year ago, with the eventual intention of moving Cleonice into the old Masonic hall, where the Grind has operated since 2006.
“It’s a great marriage of two downtown Ellsworth businesses,” said Cary Hanson. “We both have always been a great place for people to meet, and we both really believe in using local ingredients and supporting our local economy, so bringing the two together in one space has really creating a vibrant kind of energy here.”
The Maine Grind — affectionately called “Ellsworth’s living room” by locals — will continue to offer a full service coffee bar and breakfast. At lunch, things begin to change. While the Maine Grind’s sandwiches, soups and pastries will still be available, additional menu items from the Cleonice side of things will also be available, like lamb burgers and sangria, with the option of grab and go cafe dining or table service. Then, around 5 p.m., the Maine Grind starts to wind down, and the Cleonice menu takes over entirely, featuring many of the same dishes the restaurant has become known for, with the addition of brick oven pizza.
“We kept the same menu [for the Grind] but we started making everything from scratch, from the roasts to the breakfast sausages to the salad dressings. And then we had our Kickstarter appeal, to raise money to add pizza to it. So we started serving pizza at night,” said Rich Hanson, referring to the Kickstarter campaign last January that raised $30,000 for the upgrades.
The move into the new space has meant that Cleonice is now able to accommodate twice as many diners on a given night. With the big, open kitchen they can also keep their tapas station in with the rest of the kitchen staff. In the old location, the tapas were put together outside the kitchen. It will also make for larger, more comfortable prix fixe wine dinners, which Cleonice hosts regularly throughout the year.
One thing they did lose in the move was a walk-in refrigerator, but Hanson chooses to look at that as an opportunity, rather than a loss.
“What we’re looking forward to doing now is having chalkboards with daily specials, and our menu is going to change frequently,” he said. “We’re going to be buying stuff in smaller batches and having a really dynamic menu … We can source our seafood straight to the boat. We can keep getting as much produce as we can locally. We can buy our beef from local farms and butcher it in house.”
Rich Hanson believes the move and the strategic changes have reinvigorated his staff — from chef de cuisine Zac Maccarone to his baker, Jaime Parent.
“We have a staff that’s really thrilled about the ability to do all this,” he said. “I think that after 10 and a half years at our other space, we’re ready for some reinvention and we’re excited about the future.”
The Maine Grind’s menu is served from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Cleonice serves dinner from 5 p.m. to close Tuesday through Saturday.